National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, was started in 1999 by Chris Baty. The purpose of the project is to write a fictional novel over the course of November. The overall goal given is to write 50,000 words (an average of 1,667 words a day). The word count was based off of the shortest book that could be found on Baty’s shelf at the time—Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World.
The first year Baty organized NaNoWriMo, 21 people participated, and six people completed their novels. The second year, 140 people participated. Those numbers have only continued to grow, and now, hundreds of thousands of people participate in NaNoWriMo every year. Writers who complete the NaNoWriMo word count can upload their novels to the NaNoWriMo site, and have their word counts verified to show that they’ve "won."
For some writers, however, their success goes beyond the banners and certificates that NaNoWriMo offers for completing the challenge. We've rounded up nine of the best novels that have been published after their completion during NaNoWriMo.
With the Fire on High
At 17 years old, Emoni Santiago is an incredible cook and dreams of becoming a chef. However, her current circumstances have made those dreams seem, at times, unattainable. Raised by her abuela, Emoni has been forced to make difficult decisions since she got pregnant during her freshman year of high school.
Emoni is determined to make a better life for her family, and when she gains the chance to go on a cooking apprenticeship in Spain, she sees a chance to make her dreams a reality.
The Night Circus
Published in 2011, author Erin Morgenstern actually spent three NaNoWriMo competitions working on this bestselling novel, and has since offered a pep talk to current participants.
Celia and Marco are magicians who work for Le Cirque des Rêves, a mysterious circus that only operates at night. This atmospheric and fantastical novel takes place over the course of several years, and follows Celia and Marco as they grow up, become competent in their respective crafts—and find themselves questioning their place in the circus.
Cath and her twin sister, Wren, grew up with a love for the Simon Snow books. However, as they go into college, Wren has grown out of her obsession, and Cath is still hanging on. It leads to a divide between the otherwise tight knit twins. Cath finds herself rooming with someone other than Wren, and is surrounded by people that either don’t understand her interest in Simon Snow fanfiction, or who find it banal.
It’s up to Cath to find her way in this new and unfriendly environment. Whether or not she does that with Simon Snow as a facet of her identity—well, that’s her decision.
This dystopian novel finds mankind in a desperate struggle to survive. The Earth’s surface is no longer habitable. The humans that remain all live underground, in one silo. Dissenters begin to spread adverse opinions—but when they start to tell others that the Earth’s surface may be habitable again, they’re punished, and sent to their death.
They’re allowed outside.
Water for Elephants
This 2006 book is probably the novel most famous for being written during NaNoWriMo. Set in the early 20th century, Jacob Jankowski is in the final days of his exams at Cornell University. He’s nearly completed his doctorate in veterinary medicine when he receives the news that his parents have been killed. This tragedy changes the course of Jacob’s life forever. He leaves Cornell, hops a train, and winds up joining the circus—the Benzini Brothers Circus, in fact.
Jacob finds himself working as a vet for the circus, and becomes swept up with the vagabond life—and fascinated by Marlena, the wife of the animal trainer. The film was made into a movie in 2011, starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz.
This retelling of Cinderella will give you a new appreciation for the beloved fairytale. Cinder is a cyborg, and considered a second-class citizen in New Beijing. Set after World War 4 (we have that to look forward to), the planet is populated by humans and androids alike. Cinder is a diligent and talented mechanic, but she faces adversity—primarily in the form of her vile stepmother.
Many humans are subjected to a mysterious pandemic called letumosis. When it kills the Emperor, he leaves his son, Kai, in charge. Cinder’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s calm—until it becomes intertwined with Prince Kai’s.
Don’t Let Me Go
Nate and Adam have faced a lot since getting together—they’ve come out to their friends, they’ve told their parents about one another, they’ve faced homophobia and hatred from small-minded people. Through all of it, the two have stuck it out together, and have stayed strong.
But when Adam takes a job in New York, the long-distance relationship places the two under strain for the first time since they got together. Luke finds himself questioning Adam’s commitment—and his own.
Modern Girls follows two Jewish women, a mother and a daughter, in New York in 1935. Rose is a Russian immigrant, a mother of five, and a housewife. She recognizes her daughter Dottie’s talents for bookkeeping, and encourages her to pursue her career. Dottie is more focused on settling down, as many nineteen year old girls in her position are. When both Dottie and Rose find themselves pregnant, they each face questions around their social mores and faiths.
Related: The Best Young Adult Books for Adult Readers
The Wedding Date
This was one of the best selling romance novels of 2018, and we bet you had no idea it was written during NaNoWriMo! Most people browse Tinder or Hinge for a last-minute plus one to a wedding. Drew Nichols found his when they became stranded in an elevator together. Drew dreads being a groomsman in a wedding for his friend and ex-girlfriend. He can’t show up alone—which is where fellow temporary-elevator resident Alexa Monroe comes in.
Alexa finds herself taking a chance on this handsome, funny stranger, and agrees to be his fake date. When the wedding comes to an end, Alexa and Drew part ways...but each finds that they can’t get the other out of their heads.